State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.
The Federal Trade Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to pursue policies that will make it easier for people to repair their own things. In a vote of 5-0 during a Commission Meeting, the FTC agreed to adopt a policy paper outlining how it planned to enforce rules that keep manufacturers from restricting aftermarket repair. It plans to enforce existing warranty law, coordinate with state and local lawmakers to ensure open markets, and investigate the current repair monopolies for violations of antitrust law.
The move comes just weeks after President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the commission to create right-to-repair rules.
“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs and undermine resiliency,” FTC Chairperson Lina Khan said during the meeting. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions. And today's policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”
The FTC policy paper outlined a five-pronged approach to the problem. First, it’s asking for comments and complaints from the public about bad experiences it’s had with repair issues and violated warranty. It’s long been illegal under federal law for companies to void warranties based on aftermarket repairs. The problem is that those laws often aren’t enforced, though the FTC did take some action on manufacturers who put warranty-void-if-removed stickers on their devices after Motherboard reported on the problem several years ago.
“While current law does not provide for civil penalties or redress, the Commission will consider filing suit against violators of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to seek appropriate injunctive relief,” the policy paper said.
Next, the FTC said it will look over current repair restrictions for violations of existing antitrust and anti-competition laws. “Finally, the Commission will bring an interdisciplinary approach to this issue, using resources and expertise from throughout the agency to combat unlawful repair restrictions,” the policy paper said. “The FTC will also closely coordinate with state law enforcement and policymakers to ensure compliance and to update existing law and regulation to advance the goal of open repair markets.”
It’s a major victory for the right-to-repair. “Manufacturers, be warned: It’s time to clean up your act and let people fix their stuff,” Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Right to Repair Senior Campaign Director, told Motherboard in an email. “With unanimous support from commissioners, there’s a new sheriff in town. The FTC is ready to act to stop many of the schemes used to undermine repair, while support is increasing for new legislation to further crack down.”
Things are looking good for the right-to-repair. More than half the states in the country are considering some form of legislation that would make it easier for people to repair their own stuff, legislation has been introduced in Congress, and the New York State Senate has already passed a law which will soon move to the Assembly for consideration.
All that was before Biden signed his Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which encouraged the FTC and the rest of the country to work towards enshrining right-to-repair in law.
The Executive Order was good for the FTC, but it didn’t need the encouragement. It was already on the path to make it easier for people to repair their own stuff. Today’s policy paper is the result of years of research that culminated in a May 2021 report on the issue called “Nixing the Fix.”
After years of gaining momentum, the right-to-repair movement is on the verge of victory. “The FTC is no longer on the sidelines. They have pledged to assist states in making Right to Repair improvements, and to tackle illegal behavior from manufacturers,” Proctor said. “Earlier this year, U.S. PIRG, Repair.org and iFixit delivered more than 15,000 comments asking for the FTC to start taking action to end repair restrictions. Today, the FTC is poised to do just that.”